“They Boarded the Planes in Complete Silence”

This blog post is the second post about HIAS and Ethiopian Jewry. See the first post here.

A drought and famine, which was spurred on by the civil war, killed between 400,000 and 600,000 Ethiopians from 1983-1985, mainly in the northern part of the country. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the fighting, poor economy, conscription starting at age 12, famine, and political repression, mostly going to Sudan. Among these refugees were thousands of Beta Israel.

In late 1984, after several years of secret negotiations between the Mossad and the Sudanese government, and with United States government intervention, a coordinated effort between the Israel Defense Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States embassy in Khartoum, mercenaries, Sudanese state security forces, Sudanese Muslims, and the secret police of Sudan resulted in the first airlift of Beta Israel, which was known as Operation Moses. Over six weeks, starting on November 21, 1984, more than 30 Trans European Airways flights, each carrying 200 Ethiopian Jews at a time, clandestinely flew approximately 7,200 to 8,000 Beta Israel to Israel via Brussels. Operation Moses ended on January 5, 1985, after Sudan’s Arab allies became aware of the operation through a leak in the press and pressured the Sudanese government to prevent any more Jews from going to Israel via Sudan.

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Guidelines on Ethiopian Jewry sent in the wake of a press leak in January 1985.

This stranded approximately 800-1,000 Beta Israel in Sudanese refugee camps. In late March 1985, six United States Air Force planes brought these remaining Jews to southern Israel in Operation Joshua. This second airlift followed a secret appeal to President Reagan by all 100 U.S. senators to save the Ethiopians Jews.

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Letter sent to Presdient Ronald Reagan by HIAS president Robert L. Israeloff after Operation Joshua.

From 1985-1990, the Ethiopian government made it very difficult for Ethiopian Jews to leave the country for Israel. In late 1990 and early 1991, the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces took advantage of political changes in the Ethiopian civil war as rebel forces began to gain ground against the government, and made covert plans to get the Beta Israel to Israel. The final large-scale airlift of Beta Israel took place from May 24 to May 25, 1991, and was known as Operation Solomon. 40 non-stop Israeli flights between Ethiopia and Israel using 35 civilian and military airplanes, including one Ethiopian airliner, transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours. This was achieved in part due to United States government pressure. At one point overnight, 28 aircraft were in the air at one time. All of the flights were crammed with passengers, often two or three people to a seat and, in many cases, the seats had been removed to accommodate as many people as possible, up to 1,122 passengers on one plane. The immigrants were met by ambulances on the tarmac in Israel. 300 elderly and frail passengers, as well as seven babies, including one set of twins, who were born on the planes, and their mothers, were transported directly to the hospital.

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Memo to the HIAS Executive Committee after Operation Solomon discussing HIAS’ previously unpublicized role in the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

After the conclusion of Operation Solomon, HIAS published a long press release detailing the organization’s role in helping thousands of Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel. The story particularly highlighted the work of Haim Halachmi, the director of HIAS’ office in Israel, who had been an integral part of the movement from the beginning in the mid-1970s. President Ben Zion Leuchter felt it was important that the public knew that HIAS had been deeply involved in the rescue of the Beta Israel for many years, even when it had been too dangerous for the organization to publicly acknowledge this fact.

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Boxes Moving Out, Boxes Moving In

Today we sent 234 completed boxes to off-site storage, about 4 months of work for the HIAS archives project team. Included in this shipment are files from the Executive office, including Executive Vice-President Karl Zukerman; Government Relations files; and files from the Immigration Representation Department. Most of these files are from the 1980s and 1990s.

47 carts of boxes were shrink wrapped before being loaded onto the truck

Now we have room on the shelves to bring in the boxes remaining to be processed. We expect almost all of this last group of files to be from the offices and departments that worked directly to bring refugees to the United States and to ensure they were resettled in welcoming communities that were prepared to provide necessary services as they transitioned to life in America – English classes, citizenship classes, help with apartments and jobs and schools.

Some of the boxes coming in are from the Matching Grant department, arranging for the funding from government grants and distributing it to the communities who took in refugees. Other files we expect will be correspondence between the New York office and the overseas offices, arranging documents and visas and transportation for new HIAS clients.

We’ll be sharing what we find in these new boxes as we uncover more treasures from HIAS’ history.

Loading the rest of boxes onto the truck

More on Government Relations – Staff Files Reveal a lot about HIAS and a lot about US Immigration Policy

Rachel posted recently on the official beginning of the HIAS Government Relations Department in the 1980s, which she uncovered during the processing of Philip Saperia’s files. She focused on the how and why of the chronological arrangement of the files.

I recently completed the processing of other professionals in the Government Relations Department, including Deborah Mark, who took over as Saperia left HIAS in the late 1980s.

Deborah Mark was initially hired by HIAS in 1989 for a very specific project within the Executive Vice-President’s office, as Special Assistant to the EVP, Karl Zukerman. Mark’s role as “Appeals Coordinator” was to coordinate appeals processing between the HIAS office in Rome and communities throughout the US from which information for the appeals was gathered.

In September 1989, amid Glasnost and evolving Russian emigration policies, the need for Mark’s position ended when the US government changed its practice of denying refugee status to large numbers of Soviet Jews in Rome and appeals were much less necessary.

Most Soviet Jews leaving the USSR since the 1960s had traveled first to Europe for document and interview processing; from there they mainly went to either Israel or to the US. The US government had offices at various times in Rome and Vienna, and HIAS and other immigrant aid organizations set up offices there as well. After September 1989 Mark became responsible for “implementing the plan for working with Jews inside the Soviet Union”, according to an interview with Deborah Mark in Soviet Changes are ‘welcome challenge’ to Jewish aid agencies by Rita Gillmon in the San Diego Union, November 17, 1990.

Deborah Mark interview, 1990

After six months at HIAS Mark’s position became permanent. In 1991 Mark became the Director of Planning and Government Relations, 1991-1994, and from 1995-1997 the Director of Government Relations and Public Policy. Her voluminous files – 35 boxes – cover the 8 years of her involvement with HIAS, and document HIAS’ broad reach in many areas:

  • Working with legislators to affect positive change in the field of immigration and refugee resettlement in US communities and ensure adequate funding for government programs
  • Teaming with colleagues in other immigrant aid organizations and umbrella organizations such as InterAction, the National Immigration Forum and the Council of Jewish Federations
  • Establishing working relationships with governmental departments such as the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Immigration & Naturalization Service
  • Understanding the finer points of the continually evolving legislation on immigration, naturalization, citizenship and the asylum process
  • Reacting to global events and the need for immigrant and refugee assistance in Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, former Soviet countries, African countries, Mexico and elsewhere.

Logos and letterhead

Now that the HIAS Archives processing project is in the home stretch, we have a chance to sit down, go through our notes, and share some gems we’ve found along the way!

We’ve learned a great many things about the inner-workings of non-profit organizations, such as administrative structures, the best ways to increase membership numbers, the right way to write a business letter, and how re-branding your logo can revitalize everything.

Please enjoy this quick post, which highlights several of the more simple, creative, and unique examples of HIAS’ logos and letterhead evolution from one of their first logos in 1914 to their most recent logo from 2018.

 

1914
HICEM letterhead, 1945
HSIAS letterhead, 1952
1953
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75th Anniversary logo, 1959
HIAS House letterhead, 1965
1965
1970
HIAS letterhead, 1976
HIAS letterhead, 1979
HIAS logo, 2001
HIAS’ current logo (as of 2018)

Government Relations in the 1980s: the Archival Arrangement

The American Jewish Historical Society’s HIAS project team recently completed processing on records of the Administration and Government Relations Department of the 1980s. The records cover the years 1982-1990. This post will take a look at how the records are organized.

But first, what was the Administration and Government Relations Department? You wouldn’t be alone if you assumed the two parts of the name must have had something to do with each other—some of us did too. But looking at the records, we found that the “Administration” part actually referred to the administrative functions of the entire agency. Yes, we’re talking about dealing with switchboard problems, setting policy, ordering computers, managing office renovations, evaluating workflow in the mailroom, etc.

The Government Relations part is a bit more interesting, and thankfully represents the bulk of the materials. The federal government was involved in every step in the process of refugee migration to the United States, from the moment a person applied for refugee status, to the time they stepped off the plane. Because of this, HIAS’ relationship with the government agencies responsible for oversight and implementation of the US refugee program was an essential one. The Government Relations department’s role was to establish and maintain a system of frequent and extensive contact with a wide range of entities in Washington, D.C. More on this in a future blog post.

As with other departments, Administration and Government Relations maintained their records alphabetically by subject file, in one to two year chunks. Here is how the records are arranged:

1982 The first set of folders belonged to Karl Zukerman, who at this time served as Assistant Executive Vice President. They are from 1982 and are labeled A-I . So the first folder in this group contains materials related to the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (predecessor to InterAction), while the last relates to Indochinese Refugees. Folders for J-Z subjects are not present unfortunately.

1982-1983 The next set of Zukerman’s files is for a two year chunk, 1982-1983. For this group we have letters A-U, which is likely the full set of folders, since there weren’t many subjects beginning with letters V-Z. Yay! But you might be wondering, why is there an 82-83 set of folders, and a set of 82 folders by themselves? The reason is that the two sets had two different owners, or “creators” as archival science refers to them. For example, the set of A-I folders from 1982 could have been inherited by Zukerman from the prior staffer in that role. Alternatively, they could have been maintained by Zukerman’s assistant, while the 82-83 set belonged to him. Or, one set could have been what we might consider “general department files” to which multiple staffers contributed materials. It all depends on how the department was organized and what sort of filing scheme met the needs of that group of people.

A two year chunk makes sense because it means keeping recent documents close for when they are needed, while still being a manageable amount of stuff to keep right in the office. At the end of the two years, the files were probably boxed up and brought to the Central Files department. At that point, they were not as close as before, but close enough that one could still retrieve items as needed, probably with the assistance of a staff member in Files. After some period of time in Central Files, records were boxed up again and sent to warehouse storage.

1984 Here again we have one year of files. And again, only folders A-I are present! We do not have an explanation for this. In these materials we see Phillip A. Saperia come on as Director of Planning and Government Relations in June of 1984. He appears to have inherited the files previously kept by Zukerman. So memos, correspondence, notes, etc. addressed to or from both men are present here.

1985-1986 For this period, subjects A-U are covered, just like 82-83. During this time, HIAS reorganized the administrative functions of the agency. In these materials we see that in February or 1986, Saperia’s title changes from Director of Planning and Government Relations to Director of Administration and Government Relations.

1986 This next set is a small group of only administrative files, all pertaining to personnel policy. It is slightly curious that these files were maintained apart from the rest of the 1985-1986 materials, which contained Administrative files mixed in with the Government Relations material, including those related to personnel policy. Perhaps this set originally contained documents of a sensitive nature?

1987 The 1987 files are well represented, running from A-U.

1988-1990 This is the last set of files for this period, and they appear to be complete, ranging from A-W. Yes, this time the subjects went beyond U and into W: Washington Processing Center, and World Refugee Survey. This group appears to have been kept around for some of the next director’s tenure, because Saperia left in 1990 or 91, but there are a few things in here from 92 and 93.

 

Parting question: Do you know why the archivists didn’t just combine the files when there was more than one set? For example, the 1982 group of folders, and the 82-83 group. Leave your thoughts below, and we’ll discuss this topic in a future post.

 

 

 

HIAS helps rescue David Ben-Gurion from Ellis Island, 1940

I spent a few minutes this week looking for information on the Jewish community in Bogota, Colombia in the 1950s for friends whose family migrated from Poland to Paris to Bogota to New York before, during and after WWII. The earliest groups of files in the HIAS collection include some of the surviving files of Dr. Henry Shoskes. Dr. Shoskes was based at the New York office of HIAS in the 1940s and 1950s, but spent months at a time traveling between overseas offices of HIAS. Previous posts on Dr. Shoskes can be found here:

Dr. Henry Shoskes in Latin America, 1947

The Jewish Problem and the Catholic Point of View, Quito, 1946

Your Representatives Just Disappeared from Sao Paolo

When in Shoskes’ folder titled, “Latin America – Memoranda and Reports, 1947-1956”, searching for information on Bogota, a 2-page memorandum caught my attention.

Dated May 9, 1951, the memorandum is from Bernard Kornblith, Supervisor, Pier Service Department, to Dr. Henry Shoskes, HIAS Overseas Representative. The subject is: “Ben Gurion’s arrival in the United States in 1940”. There is no context about why Kornblith chose this moment in 1951 to write to Shoskes about this episode from 11 years earlier. The copy in the file is a carbon copy, which you can see in the lack of crispness in the text.

Note that the ship Ben-Gurion arrived on was the S.S. Scythia – misspelled  in the memo – which itself has an interesting history. Below is the memorandum:

David Ben Gurion’s Arrival in the United States, page 1
Kornblith memo, page 2

Kornblith must have repeated this story many times; a very similar retelling  appears in a new book by Rick Richman, and in his article in Mosaic magazine (January 2018).

It may seem that Kornblith’s responsibilities as the supervisor of HIAS’ pier services on Ellis Island, while offering much-needed assistance to immigrants, most days involved routine paperwork. How surprising therefore, on a Rosh Hashanah morning, to find himself pulling Rabbi Stephen Wise out of High Holiday services. Through Wise’s intervention, the future first prime minister of Israel avoided an uncomfortable couple of days and nights on Ellis Island.

I hope Kornblith was aware of the thousands of new immigrants he helped ease into new lives in the United States in the decades he worked for HIAS, down at the piers.

David Ben-Gurion on another pre-state visit to New York. Most likely seeking funding, he is pictured here with Hadassah leaders Rose Halprin (left) and Etta Rosensohn, 1946

 

 

Brothers Reunited After a Lifetime Apart

On Sunday, February 6, 1983, brothers Zyama Volfson (80) and Samuel Wolfe (somewhere between 86 and 88) were reunited at Miami International Airport for the first time in over 70 years. They had not seen each other since Samuel Wolfe had left Bobruisk, Russia (now in Belarus) at the age of 16, when his brother was still a young child. This was in either 1911 or 1913, according to different sources. When he arrived in the United States, Samuel “Americanized” his name to Wolfe. He worked in various construction jobs, at breweries, restaurants, stockyards, factories, coal mines, and as a door-to-door salesman all around the eastern and mid-western parts of the country before settling in Chicago as a taxi driver in the 1920’s.

 

 

Zyama stayed in Russia, through World Wars I and II, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of Communism, until his wife died in 1980. He then decided to emigrate to the United States with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. After settling in Brooklyn in 1981, Volfson decided to seek out his brother, knowing only that he lived near Chicago. He sought help from the New York office of HIAS, which helped put Volfson in touch with the Chicago office of HIAS. The Chicago office placed an ad in the Sentinel, an English-language Jewish newspaper in Chicago, in December 1982.

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Wolfe’s daughter, Hodele Markowitz, saw the ad and contacted her father, who by then was spending most of his time in Miami Beach, Florida. Markowitz set up a brief telephone call between the brothers, after which she planned an in-person reunion. Zyama Volfson flew to Miami with his daughter-in-law, Lyudmila, to meet his brother, with whom he had lost touch 70 years before.

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Photo from the Chicago Sun-Times, February 7, 1983. Samuel Wolfe is holding red carnations from his brother.

The charming story caught the attention of various newspapers in New York and Chicago, as well as several local morning television news programs. HIAS’ Chicago and New York offices also received their share of publicity, particularly from individuals looking to make their own family connections.

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